EDITORIAL

LePage should approve expanded use of ignition interlock devices

Posted May 29, 2013, at 12:28 p.m.
Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York County
From Maine Senate Democrats website
Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York County
Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland
Maine House Republicans
Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland

On Nov. 8, 2010, William Pratt of York wrote a thank you letter to a Maine judge who had sentenced him for driving while intoxicated. “It was the six month sentence to jail that led to my sobriety and turned my life around,” he wrote. “l will forever be grateful to you for that.”

But, he continued, because of his number of convictions, his license had been suspended for going on seven years. Not being able to drive kept him dependent on his family and friends, hindered his ability to make a living and prevented him from taking his son to school activities. As a private contractor, he said, he had been unable to bid for his own jobs. Instead he worked for other people, earning far less than he was capable of earning.

“I think I would be an excellent candidate for an interlocking device,” he wrote. “l would willingly comply with any additional conditions [the Bureau of Motor Vehicles] would require of me, including restrictions for my lifetime.”

The judge couldn’t help him, but the Legislature could and did. Now final approval lies with Gov. Paul LePage. We would like him to approve LD 85, sponsored by Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, which would change the rules for repeat offenders convicted of operating under the influence. The bill requires no additional funding.

Currently, people with four OUI convictions within 10 years have their license suspended for a mandatory minimum of six years and then must use an ignition interlock device for four years. The bill, which the Legislature approved Tuesday, would increase the mandatory minimum suspension to eight years. It would also, however, allow the secretary of state to permit offenders to drive after four years if they continue to use an ignition interlock device for another four years.

Another bill, LD 1260, sponsored by Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, complements Hill’s bill by extending the interlock device option to first-time offenders; it’s already a choice for repeat offenders. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the BMV and AAA Northern New England support Nutting’s bill. It deserves approval by the full Legislature and LePage.

The breath alcohol analyzers are optional for OUI offenders, who pay for their use. Drivers must blow into the device to start their vehicles, and if there is alcohol in their system, the vehicle won’t start. The devices identify the person using them and also require the driver to blow into them while driving, to ensure no alcoholic drinks were consumed during the drive. A computer system notifies the vendor if the device is tampered with.

Three device vendors are approved to operate in Maine, and their charges range from $55-$120 for installation, with a monthly lease fee of $70-$85. Recalibration and inspection fees are $15-40, while the removal fee is $50-$75.

The devices offer a humane, effective way to prevent people, many of whom suffer from the disease of alcoholism, from making the mistake of driving while drunk. It protects innocent people on the road and the drivers themselves, while allowing drivers to work, go to school and take care of their families — which aids overcoming addiction.

They are effective. The general recidivism rate for OUI offenses in 2012 was 26 percent compared with 1.6 percent for those who had the devices installed since 2009, according to Robert O’Connell, director of legal affairs, adjudications and hearings at the BMV. That’s a 94 percent reduction in the rate of repeat offenses.

Most people with license suspensions continue to drive anyway. Drivers with interlock devices have fewer alcohol-related crashes than drivers who had their license taken away because of an OUI conviction, according to a 2009 study completed for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Reducing the number of repeat OUI offenses has the potential to not only keep people safe but help cut the costs of incarceration.

Pratt testified before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on April 15 that he knew he had made bad decisions. But, he said, he is trying to move on. He has been sober since 2006, which “has enriched every aspect of my life. I’ve bought land, built my own home and become very involved in my son’s schooling and athletic endeavors. I am a single dad and sole supporter of [my son] since his mother passed away.”

We hope LePage sees the human, safety and financial value to these bills and approves them.

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